Holographic storage rises from the dead

Holographic storage rises from the dead

Summary: Holographic storage has incredible potential, but has never made it to market despite$100 million and years of R&D. But now it gets one more chance to make good.

TOPICS: Storage

Two years ago InPhase Technologies, who had labored for a decade to bring holographic storage to market, bit the dust. But thanks to the patient and deep-pocketed VCs at Signal Lake - who bought InPhase's remains - the technology will have another chance.

Today at NAB in Las Vegas hVault is resurrecting the technology for one more try.

How does it work? Holograms use 2 coherent laser beams - a reference beam and an illumination beam - to create an interference pattern that is recorded on photo sensitive media. Shine a laser on the recorded interference pattern and the original image is reconstructed in glorious 3D. As the laser moves around - or you do - you see the image from different perspectives.

Holographic storage has some nifty properties.

  1. A small fragment of a hologram can reconstruct the entire data image. The fragment won’t let you move as far around the image, but for 2D images, like a photograph, it means a scratch isn’t fatal.
  2. Data density is theoretically unlimited. By varying the angle between the reference and illumination beams - or the angle of the media - hundreds of holograms can be stored in the same physical area.
  3. Photographic media has the longest proven lifespan - over a century - of any modern media. Since there’s no physical contact you can read the media millions of times with no degradation.

But with a new medium comes a whole host of difficult and expensive problems, developing every piece of the product including:

  • Holographic media
  • Mass production of the media
  • The read/write algorithms and optics

While keeping the price down.

The Storage Bits take I've never gotten a clear story on why InPhase failed to bring a product to market, but that should be Job #1 for hVault. Yes, the economics are daunting, but they won't get better until you get traction.

I've got a briefing scheduled with hVault for Wednesday. I'm looking forward to hearing more and sharing it with you.

What questions would you like answered? Put them in the comments.

Comments welcome, of course. I wish them luck.

Topic: Storage

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  • Questions:

    Is this worm-type technology?
    Actual capacity?
    Shipping anytime soon?
    • All shall be revealed

      in the fullness of time. I trust I'll learn the answers at the briefing Wednesday.
      R Harris
  • If it works in Star Trek......

    ....it will be real sooner or later!
  • Then Sony will get into the mess...

    ...and force BlueHolo onto us, it'll flop and that will be the end of it!
    Tony Burzio
    • Sony? Not likely.

      hVault is aiming at the archive market, not consumers. Also, they have a lot of patents on this technology. This won't be of interest to any of the big players.
      R Harris
  • Holocube?

    Is this the 2" holocube that was in the news some years ago? 11 TB storage capacity, slightly greyish looking?
    Apparently the biggest problem was the reading, as you would get 100 Gig per slice.
    Love to see details!
    • I've been waiting on the cube...

      was wondering what happened to it, people thought I was crazy over the last couple of years when I talked about it.
  • Come on, guys!

    Aerogels! Look, there are a handful of lens-less optical processing algorithms which depend upon a random fractal sampling pattern and/or noise embedment in order to move the precision from the front-end mechanics to the back-end processing. A little bit of thought should point out that a fractal aerogel (composed mostly of empty space with LOTS of room for inserting/diffusing active elements into molecular structures) should form an awesome foundation for expanding that concept, taking it the other direction -- with a little bit more development you can even use the aerogel material as the scanning mechanism which IS the "front-end mechanics". I've got a stack of date-stamped process examples and directions this could go -- think integral super-capacitor power storage and self-aligned 3-D arrays of quantum dots for photo-electric charging AND data-readout; think vapor-gradient recorder mechanisms (no electronics required); think optical "Programmable Array Logic" programmed in 3-D space; think "cookbook chemistry" and gaseous diffusion and ultra-sonic density-manipulation, so that generating data-storage blocks becomes as simple as baking hi-tech brownies. And by the way -- don't get stuck in a techie mind-set; these devices will probably make an even bigger splash in the realms of jewelry and display devices.

    Already have MY tag: "Psyberglas". Dibs -- you heard it here first!
    • Mindset

      Techie mindset? You kidding, right? :) What the heck did you just say?
      • Baffled

        Just remember the old saying; "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS".
    • Then build it

      and they will come.
    • Aerogels, like your ideas, are a bit wobbly

      Having worked with aerogels, I wonder if you appreciate the fact that the "gel" part of the name means that they are made with a flexible polymer. Flexibility is not a useful thing when attempting to align your reference and illumination beams.

      While some of the phrases you use express coherent thoughts, they are unconnected. "Fractal" is a cool word, and has some bearing on simulating reality, as things tend to remain complex the closer you look at them, but in reality, fractals only exist as a mathematical concept. To refer to a "fractal aerogel" makes as much sense as a "boolean tomato."

      It's nice to "think" about things, but this company is actually trying to make something that works in a practical fashion, and I look forward to any concepts they are willing to share with Robin, rather than get mired in random speculation. I could say "Think avocado," and, "Think mortar and pestle." This does not give you a good recipe for guacamole.
      • Except they're NOT "flexible".

        Aerogels, once they are processed using supercritical CO2, are NOT "flexible", nothing like jello -- they become slabs of material which are porous, 98% empty space, kind of smoky-gray transparent in color. The chemistry involved during making of any batch results in a very predictable network of open-cell scaffolding, with very specific binding points for whatever active compounds you might want to embed IN that block. In 3D space. Because you can infuse a chemical vapor INTO the block and then irradiate a specific point (or GRID of points) in 3D to cause a component of that vapor to bond where it was irradiated. Change vapors, irradiate again, iterate. We're not talking anything much different from the wafer processing being used to manufacture silicon chips. Ultracapacitors (you HAVE heard about them, I hope) are a spin-off of aerogel processing and offer a HUGE amount of surface area for capacitive energy storage.

        Next: "fractal". I forget the specific university which reported this, four or five years back, but they basically found that a pseudo-random fractal pattern of CCD pixels, WITHOUT a lens in front of it, generates data which can be massaged to result in quite detailed image data. THEY are the ones who used the term "fractal" because THEY found it was PERTINENT to being able to extract the data. And by the way, aerogels by definition display fractal characteristics; the same kinds of structural patterns occur all over, at all different measurement scales, patterns which can be controlled by the specific chemistry used in production.

        Oddly enough, I feel no need to explain any of the rest of what I had to say. If you don't get it, that's fine by me. The people who ARE familiar with the concepts I reference WILL "get my drift".
    • Physic is wrong

      using an aerogel won't gain you anything, unless you can control the positions of all the gas molecules in your gel.

      Also, holographic memory isn't really unlimited. What it does give is access to a larger area of the disk. A hologram is after all, an interference pattern. That's all. There is a finite amount of information that can be stored on one. what it will get you is tighter packing at a given wavelength than traditional optical disks which store only one possible value per bit, and have to have several wavelengths separating the tracks.

      Still, the promised storage densities of holographic storage are already being reached or approached by magnetic media.

      Lifetime of holographic disks isn't really unlimited either. Lifetime of CD's seems to be around 10 years. Magnetic "floppy" disks around 3 years, and magnetic tape around 50 years. for true long term storage, the winner is still baked clay tablets from Sumeria. Paper lasts for around 2,000 years, if kept in the proper environment. We really don't have a good true 'long term' information storage medium.
  • Does it have a consumer use?

    If the photo sensitive media really does have a 50 year of lifespan, why not down-scale the technology to 2D as a replacement for DVD-R, CD-R, and BD-R?

    Seems like it would be a good way to roll out a product that could aid a larger market while generating revenue to feed to the 3D holo technology.
  • Stable?

    How stable is the saved item? Will it ever disappear from the media as data on CDs are prone to just disappear with the "disc is not formatted" message over time?
    • Quite stable; re the article: "100 years plus"...

      The holographic medium becomes the data substrate -- some small percentage of the medium is dedicated to the integral indexing and formatting mechanism, with all the benefits of the holographically-redundant data-loss tolerance. Potentially, the data storage element can be "frozen" (write-locked, encapsulated) -- the long-term durability gets into the range of "how long before the data element itself decays", kinda like how most red dyes will sun-fade over time.
      • I wouldn't be so sure

        I don't know of any relatively cheap material which can survive for 100 years without any damage or degradation. A hologram may be "redundant" in some sense, but that doesn't mean it can survive when the underlying material gives out.

        It's not clear to me how you can get back all the original digital data if part of it is damaged. The example given by Mr. Harris of a picture still being there but not in full 3D format after some damage may not apply to digital data storage. Pictures are by their nature somewhat holographic on their own. If you lose a few pixels, you can still usually make out the object. Or if you lose the image of a face from one side, you can still figure out who the person is.

        Random digital data is not nearly so robust. You lose a few bytes, and they're lost. Maybe there's some way to encode the data in a hologram so that it is still retrievable when parts of the hologram are lost, but it's not clear what it is. You can't possibly keep breaking a hologram up into smaller and smaller pieces and expect each piece to have a full and perfect copy of the data stored in the original hologram. There are limits to nature.
  • This would change Data Centers... Forever!!!

    I live near a Google Data Center, and worked on the construction of the Apple Data Center in Maiden NC. This has the possibility of shrinking these centers exponentially!!! Only problem I can see, is the linking of these holograms... They will need to rethink networking, and search. Have they been working on this? And will this ever be available to the masses??? Thanks for the story!!!
  • Other companies are also working on it...

    IBM is well in the game with the famous cube and a few important patents and GE not bad either.